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Geocachers chase down tiny objects hidden among us

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By Andy Rathbun
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Nate Cushman uses his GPS device (detail at top) near the site of a hidden geocache in Snohomish.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Nate Cushman uses his GPS device (detail at top) near the site of a hidden geocache in Snohomish.

  • Cushman hunts for a hidden micro geocache in Snohomish.

    Cushman hunts for a hidden micro geocache in Snohomish.

  • Michael O'Leary/The Herald
Nate Cushman uses a GPS device as part of his geocaching hobby.

    Michael O'Leary/The Herald Nate Cushman uses a GPS device as part of his geocaching hobby.

  • Geocaching.com
A screen capture of a local geocache hunt in Snohomish posted on Geocaching.com, a website that compiles geocache hunts.

    Geocaching.com A screen capture of a local geocache hunt in Snohomish posted on Geocaching.com, a website that compiles geocache hunts.

  • Geocaching.com
A screen capture of a local geocache hunt in Snohomish posted on Geocaching.com, a website that compiles geocache hunts.

    Geocaching.com A screen capture of a local geocache hunt in Snohomish posted on Geocaching.com, a website that compiles geocache hunts.

Nate Cushman knew tree stumps were a good hiding place.
Crouching at an old Snohomish golf course, the librarian pulled a plastic bag out of a fat stump. It held little trinkets and a sheet of paper that had been signed by dozens before him.
Cushman was led to the spot using a handheld global positioning system, his GPS device, to demonstrate the increasingly popular hobby of geocaching.
"In your daily routine, you could be walking by a geocache every day," he said, "and not know it's there."
Geocaching, a hobby that began in 2000, has been gaining steam the past three years, as the tools that make it possible become more accessible. Locally, librarians plan to use geocaching during a series of events this May.
Geocaching works like this: Someone hides an object, or cache, noting its coordinates with a GPS device.
They post the coordinates on a Web site. Others plug the coordinates into their GPS devices or use sites such as Maps.Google.com to pinpoint the coordinates.
Then the hunt begins. The cache is usually a small waterproof box or bag hidden somewhere on public property. The caches aren't buried, keeping in line with an ethos that urges people to respect the outdoors.
Usually, geocachers search for trinkets, logging their finds online. Occasionally, however, they have high-profile hunts. For instance, in July 2008, the multiplatinum rock band Nine Inch Nails hid tickets to a California show in a drainpipe.
Geocaching.com, a Seattle-based Web site, estimates that more than 2 million people worldwide now participate in the hobby. The site, a leading destination for geocachers, lists more than 775,000 caches worldwide, with 1,600 in a 20-mile radius of Everett and about 30 as far away as Antarctica.
Cushman, 40, has searched for caches with his 11-year-old son for a few years, but recently hid his first as part of the Big Read, a community reading of "The Maltese Falcon" hosted by the Sno-Isle Libraries and Everett Public Library.
Cushman, who works at the Snoho­mish Library, said the hobby only loosely connects to Dashiell Hammett's mystery. Really, the hobby is less like detective work and more like a high-tech Easter egg hunt.
And, just like an Easter egg hunt, it has a way of grabbing the imagination. It's almost magical, making it no surprise that geocachers sometimes call the general public "muggles," a Harry Potter term for nonmagical people.
While Cushman's find in Snohomish was easy to spot, others aren't so simple, adding to the mystery.
"The smallest one I ever found was the size of a bullet, basically," he said. "It was a little magnet that stuck underneath a garbage can."

Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455, arathbun@heraldnet.com.




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